• James Stranahan

Defending the Movies!

I got into a friendly debate a few months ago with a guy who believed that making movies was a frivolous job. I was flying back to California after a film shoot and got to talking to the man sitting next to me. You know how it goes: you sit down, glance at the person whom you’ll be sitting next to for the next however many hours, surreptitiously size them up to see if they’re conversation-people or not, and either introduce yourself or settle back to sleep. This guy was outgoing, so we started chatting.

One of our first questions, predictably enough, was “What do you do for a living?” When he heard I was a film producer, he peppered me with questions. While I couldn’t verify the latest tabloid gossip or talk about who was likely to be nominated for any Academy Awards, I did answer his questions about how I spend my days.

Then he said this: “Films are certainly an important part of the economy, but ultimately, don’t you think that there are other professions that are more vital to our society?”

Ouch. He was perfectly friendly, but even so, I had to think about how I wanted to respond. I could see his point. I don’t save lives like doctors do, and I haven’t put out a fire that’s threatening the homes of countless people. I’m not a teacher, educating the minds of our next leaders, and I don’t work in a nursing home, taking care of people in their twilight years.

It made me ask myself this question as he ordered his peanuts and a Coke: what exactly is it that I do?

On a broad level, I’d say that I entertain people. I give them a couple of hours of fun and make them laugh. I take them into imaginative worlds and show them sights and sounds that they won’t find anywhere else.

All of this was what I first considered saying in response, but then I realized what I do goes a lot deeper than that. I take audiences to parts of the world that they may never get to see. I introduce them to characters who might have similar problems, perhaps presenting them with solutions. I educate people, helping them to understand concepts that they may have been struggling with, but now that they can see it on the big screen, they understand what it means. I inspire viewers, telling them stories of heroic deeds that prove that we are all bigger than the difficulties that we face. I remind people that even when a moment seems dark, we all have a spark within us that can help us to overcome literally anything. I help them to remember history so that humanity’s biggest moments are never forgotten and our mistakes may stand a chance of not being made again. In short, I try to bring life itself to the screen, and if I can entertain people at the same time, I will have done a good job.

When I told all of this to my flight-mate, he turned thoughtful. “Fair enough,” he responded. “I have seen plenty of movies that have lifted my spirits and given me the strength to go on when my life was in the toilet. Rocky is the reason I was able to get into shape, though I have no desire to duke it out with Apollo Creed.”

Then he paused again, considering his next question, then landed a big one on me: “Do you really think a movie ticket should cost $11?”

That got me. I laughed and laughed and laughed. I had to admit that I couldn’t answer that one.

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